WARRENSBURG - In a reversal of a decision made just several weeks ago, Warren County supervisors voted Friday to back off their campaign to raise the sales tax rate from 7 percent to 8 percent.
Also, they approved a 2010 budget that calls for an increase in county property taxes of 6.1 percent - with 2010 tax increases in various towns ranging from 5 percent to 24 percent.
The supervisors' vote came eight days after the public expressed their dismay over the proposed sales tax hike at an informal public hearing, when all but one speaker voiced strong objections to the measure.
The vote was to withdraw a request to the state legislature to pass a home rule law enabling the sales tax increase.
County Budget Officer Kevin Geraghty, one of several supervisors who changed their vote, said he did so because of the public sentiment against the hike.
The vote came after a passionate, testy debate Friday between opponents and supporters of the hike, who said that the county needed the additional $12 million to $16 million in annual revenue to rebuild the county's depleted financial reserves and decrease county property taxes.
Warren County Board of Supervisors Chairman Fred Monroe contended that temporarily increasing sales tax - a discretionary tax which would be shared by tourists - was far preferable than boosting unavoidable property taxes, which he said would be forcing people out of their homes and crimping businesses.
He said that foreclosures and late property tax payments had multiplied in the last several years, and a property tax hike was not only an additional burden to citizens, but it would decrease county revenues.
"Property tax is killing our county residents, and these tax increases don't make sense," Monroe said.
He predicted that up to $4 million in county property tax revenue would be in jeopardy in 2010 after the 6.1 percent property tax hike is imposed in January.